The Global Assembly has been cancelled. Why?

After careful consideration and with a heavy heart, the group of initiators of the Global Assembly for Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Justice has decided to cancel the meeting of roughly 60 activists from around the world, which was planned in Frankfurt from 14th-18th March. The public events that were to accompany the Assembly will not take place either. The group of initiators justifies the cancellation as follows:

From the outset, the Global Assembly was intended to be a protected space for the free exchange of opinions among participants, who are engaged in fights – mostly in the Global South – against authoritarianism, environmental destruction, social injustice, violence, and all forms of discrimination, and who are often threatened or directly affected by severe repression in their countries.

For some time now, we have been witnessing attempts in the political and media discourse in Germany to eclipse post-colonial perspectives from the public debate. Virtually every attempt to give the crimes of former colonial powers an appropriate place in the Culture of Remembrance (Erinnerungskultur) and in the human rights discourse, is branded as relativising the singular German crime, the Shoah, and is suspected of antisemitism, even when there is no question that the Shoah is a crime against humanity of particular rank. This is precisely why we have long held on to an Assembly that would have enabled the free exchange of different human rights-based perspectives on a global scale, both internally and publicly. This is precisely what the participants of the "Pre-Assembly" put into effect in an impressive manner in May 2023.

Since Hamas’ massacre on October 7th 2023, and Israel’s devastating counterattacks, the situation in Germany has once again deteriorated considerably. Critics of Israel's response to Hamas’ terrorist attack and organisations that do not want to prohibit such critics from speaking out, are inundated with accusations, and threatened with administrative measures and exclusion from public funding. The accusation of antisemitism or "hatred of Israel" is also used to delegitimise and thus indirectly censor statements that may be politically controversial. This may for example be statements which do not explicitly mention the terror of Hamas, but which have nothing to do with demands for the destruction of Israel or anti-Jewish resentment and are therefore subject to freedom of expression and should be discussed as such in an open exchange of differing political positions. Such a trivialisation and instrumentalisation of the concept of anti-Semitism, is also relativising in unacceptable ways the actual hatred against Jews and the violence they are subjected to.

Until the very end, the organisers and sponsors of the Global Assembly held onto to the idea of countering such narrowed discourse with an opportunity for open exchange, including controversial perspectives on the current state of international law, democracy, and human rights in times of increasing authoritarianism and economic - in many ways destructive -globalisation. We were guided by some self-evident principles, which we formulated as follows:

"We assume that the inviolability of human dignity, the universality of human rights, and democratic participation for all people are the central points of reference for us all. We defend this claim against all those who violate it, regardless of them justifying it with a state’s right to self-defence, or a non-state actors’ right to resistance."

In the tense situation in Germany as described above, we no longer see a possibility of conducting the debate with respect for the universality of human rights, but also with the necessary openness to divergent and – from a German perspective – possibly provocative positions. We share the concerns of some of the organisations supporting the Assembly, that attempts could be made to hinder the work of the inviting aid organisations and political foundations, as well as their partner organisations in the Global South.

The group of initiators of the Global Assembly is observing with growing concern the increasing prevention of an open, critical discourse, characterised by respect and appreciation for those who think differently. Our cancellation is a sad consequence of this development. In doing so we fulfil our responsibility not to jeopardise the opportunities for effective global human rights work, but we take this step with sadness and great unease, especially towards the participants - activists who courageously fight for human rights and free political advocacy in their countries. We must recognise that the communicative protection and free space for such discourses, that the Global Assembly wanted to provide, is currently not given. We are in discussions with the participants on how we can publicly continue to discuss the topics already elaborated by the Global Assembly - ecological-social crisis, authoritarianism and democracy, global (in)justice, flight and statelessness, gender justice - in a different form. We will not cease in our efforts to invite and platform critical voices against all attempts to narrow down the discourse.

Berlin/Frankfurt am Main, 4th March 2024
The group of initiators of the Global Assembly for Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Justice